Ivan Continues Caribbean Rampage: Jamaica, Cayman’s Hit; Cuba and U.S. on Alert

September 13, 2004

Hurricane Ivan continued its destructive rampage through the Caribbean over the weekend, pummeling the island of Jamaica with winds of 155 mph (250km/h), 23 foot (7 meter) waves and heavy rainfall.

Ivan is one of the strongest and most destructive hurricanes ever to hit the Caribbean. Its intensity has ranged consistently between Category 4 and 5 on the Saffir/Simpson scale. Reports of storm related deaths range from 40 to more than 60, with the latter figure being more likely. Damages are probably in the billions; the battering from Ivan will take months, if not years, to recover from.

The storm has been erratic, moving from side to side like a drunken sailor. Its center missed Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, but the slow moving storm, around 9 mph (14.5) km/hr) pounded the western part of the island for over 24 hours, causing the shutdown of Jamaica’s electrical grid and forcing most of the island’s residents to ride out Ivan’s fury in darkness.

For a while on Sunday it appeared that the low lying Cayman Islands would be spared Ivan’s full force, but the storm lurched eastward, bringing widespread destruction. A BBC report described “terrifying scenes of roofs being ripped off and homes collapsing. Much of the main island, Grand Cayman, is said to be under water, including the international airport’s runway.” The Cayman’s, a well-known offshore banking center, has a number of solidly constructed buildings and homes, but many of them were nonetheless reported to have suffered heavy damages.

Miami’s National Hurricane Center has calculated that Ivan is the 6th most powerful hurricane ever to hit the region. Hurricane warnings are in place for the entire western portion of Cuba, while a hurricane watch is in place along the shores of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Ivan’s expected to come ashore in Cuba by Monday afternoon.

According to the latest NHC bulletin, as of 2:00 a.m. EDT Ivan’s center “was located near latitude 19.9 north-longitude 83.5 west or about 160 miles (255 km) southeast of the western tip of Cuba.” It’s moving toward the west-northwest near 9-mph (14.5 km/hr), and “a turn toward the northwest is expected during the next 24 hours. On this track the center will pass near or over extreme western Cuba this evening.” Maximum sustained winds are near 160 mph (260 km/hr) with higher gusts, making Ivan once again an extremely dangerous Category 5 hurricane.

The NHC noted that “some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next 24 hours. Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 90 miles (150 km) from the center and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 200 miles (325 km).” Ivan has also registered one of the lowest minimum central pressures ever recorded. An air force reserve unit hurricane hunter aircraft recently measured it at 920-Mb, or 27.17 inches. According to the NHC’s records only the unnamed storm that hit the Florida Keys in 1935 and Hurricane Camille in 1969 (892 and 909 Mbs respectively) were lower. Andrew’s lowest pressure reading was close, Mb 922.

The NHC’s 3-day forecast chart continues to show a slight shift to the west in the storm’s predicted path, not enough at this point to threaten the Florida Keys with a direct hit. It could also spare the State’s West Coast, but would strike the Eastern Panhandle. Ivan, however, has proven to be a very unpredictable hurricane, and, as good as the NHC’s information is, the storm’s future course remains a conjecture subject to change at any moment, as new factors come into play.

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